Prime Minister Chris Hipkins won't interfere in RNZ's handling of pro-Russia content affair

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins says he will not interfere with how RNZ handles the discovery of pro-Russian sentiment added into stories published online, but he hopes it is taken seriously.

It comes after readers noticed the text of a Reuters story about Russia's invasion of Ukraine published on RNZ had been altered.

It has since come to light that a staff member altered the text, and pro-Russian sentiment has been found on more than a dozen other stories.

So far, 250 stories published by RNZ have been audited, with chief executive Paul Thompson saying thousands more would be checked "with a fine-tooth comb".

Thompson has publicly apologised, adding the alteration was a "serious breach" of the organisation's editorial standards and "really, really disappointing".

Fifteen of the altered articles were from the Reuters wire service, and one was from BBC.

An independent review of the editing of online stories is being commissioned by RNZ.

In response to questions about RNZ's investigation during Monday's post-Cabinet media conference, Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said as a minister, he intended to stay out of the decision-making.

"Editorial independence here is very important. As a listener to RNZ, I hope that they will be taking it very seriously. As a minister, I intend to stay well out of it."

Asked if a parliamentary inquiry was required, he said he was not sure that would be the best way to preserve RNZ's editorial independence.

"RNZ is publicly funded but it's also editorially independent. That editorial independence is incredibly important. State-funded media is a common feature around the world - state-funded media that answers to the government of the day in terms of their editorial decisions is not independent. That's not the case for RNZ - RNZ make those decisions independently for a reason."

He said he had not been advised by GCSB or SIS of involvement from a foreign power.

"Certainly nothing has come to me personally. I understand that the minister of broadcasting has previously received at least one complaint, which he has referred to RNZ."

Thompson confirmed RNZ received the complaint from Michael Lidski in October last year, but the email was directed at Broadcasting Minister Willie Jackson. The company was cced in, as well as other media organisations.

He confirmed RNZ did not typically respond to complaints directed at the minister.

In hindsight, Thompson said the organisation could have done something about it at the time.

Thompson said he had contacted both Reuters and BBC and was keeping the organisations updated as to its audit.

Neither had asked anything of him at this time.